It is worth repeating: in much of Christian culture the word “gospel” and the word “salvation” are near equivalents. So much so that many think “preaching the gospel” and “preaching the plan of personal salvation” are one and the same. The contention of my book, The King Jesus Gospel, is that these two are not the same. My contention is that salvation flows from the gospel. The basic contention is that “gospeling” means declaring the Story about Jesus as God’s way in this world, through Israel, comes to fulfillment. The gospel is a message about Jesus, and that means getting Jesus right: it means seeing him as Messiah/King and Lord who rescues us and begins to establish the new creation.
My questions for today: Should we bring back enthusiastic and informed recitation of the Creed in all Christian churches? If so, how can we do this? If not, why not?
First, many of us have been nurtured into an evangelical faith that despises the Creed. That’s harsh but that’s what I often hear. This disposition toward the Creed brings together a constellation of elements: some are reared in a creedal church where the Creed was recited monotonously and without meaning; then some “became Christians” and that meant chucking everything liturgical, including the Creed. In fact, some of us were nurtured in(to) a faith that says “No Creed but the Bible.”
But, but, but… Mindless recitation of the Creed is no worse than mindless reaction against the Creed.
I want to ask this: Do you think God guided the Church into what is undoubtedly the most celebrated and unifying theological statement in the history of the entire Church or not? What lines in the Creed — Apostles’ or Nicene — are unbiblical or unimportant?
Second, I often hear a “I don’t believe in creeds” from folks. My response is always “And what line in the Creed do you reject?” My guess is that 95% of the time people have nothing to say. That is, what is being said is not “I don’t like Nicea” but “I don’t trust creeds of any sorts, I believe the Bible.” This is an uninformed and tragic disposition toward creeds. I don’t say this because I’m addicted to creeds but because I believe in the Church and the Church has expressed itself well in its creeds. They are not infallible, but really we need to ask if what part of the Creed we don’t believe. [OK, descent into hell is one that many folks have disputed.]
Third, my contention is this: if you believe in the gospel of 1 Corinthians 15, not to mention pervasive themes in the Bible, then you will believe in the Nicene Creed. My contention is that the Nicene Creed fleshes out the gospel statement of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.
I’m going to ignore the historical development — you can read a sketch in my book (or you can read a little denser version in G. McDermott, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Evangelical Theology (2010), pp. 195-208) — from Paul to Nicea, but you need perhaps to know that what Paul said in 1 Cor 15:3-5 was picked up and confessed in the baptismal liturgies of the church. To get baptized, you basically confessed the gospel (of 1 Cor 15!). It’s a fascinating history.
Instead of mapping that history, I quote the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Apostles’ Creed and then 1 Corinthians 15. What I think you will see is this: The Second Article of the Creed is little more than repetition of 1 Cor 15 — that is, Creed is gospel — but it more or less extends the gospel in 1 Cor 15 all the way to v. 28. Here’s the Second Article:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
The same connection to 1 Corinthians 15 is seen in the Second Article in The Apostles’ Creed:
And [I believe] in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
Much more could be said about this sketch of creedal history but this one thing needs to be observed: the Nicene Creed, as well as the regula fidei leading up to it, and the creeds that flowed out of Nicea, are not to be seen as exercises in theological sophistry or speculation but profoundly gospeling events. To recite the Creed for these early Christians was not to dabble in the theologically arcane but to articulate and confess – aloud and often – the gospel itself. To deny these creeds was to deny the gospel.
And now 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried,a that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, a and then to the Twelve.
I believe we need to work with our local church leaders to begin thinking about restoring the Creed into our public worship services. If you’d like to read my statement to this effect, check out G. Kalantzis, Evangelicals and the Early Church (2011), in which I have a chp on this topic.